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Archive for January 31st, 2013

Woman In The Dunes (1964)

womaninthedunes dvd

An amateur entomologist is on a 3 day break from his work as a high school teacher. He arrives on the coast looking for a unique sand beetle that lives amongst the dunes close to the sea. Falling asleep on a boat, he is woken up by a couple of men who tell him that he’s missed the last bus back to Tokyo but he can stay overnight in a shack owned by a young widow. Accepting the kind offer, the man climbs down to the shack by rope ladder into a huge sandpit. After having a meal by her, he finds out that each night she shovels sand which encroaches onto her shack and threatens to engulf it into some crates which are then hoisted up to sell to a construction company. Waking up the next morning, the man prepares to leave but as he ventures outside he finds the rope ladder is gone. He is trapped with no exit. He tries several times to climb up the sand dunes but he fails each time. He turns on the woman hoping she can provide some answers on how he can escape. How will the man manage to escape his imprisonment?

Having watched director Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Pitfall recently, I turned my attention to probably his most famous piece of work which has quite rightly been hailed a masterpiece by critics and Asian movie fans alike. It’s certainly a unique and surreal movie which you won’t forget in a hurry. It’s a fascinating study about human nature, survival and the primitive animal that’s lurking inside all of us. The viewer is witness to the transformation of the man over the course of the movie. At first all he wants to do is escape and he tries several times to do so but every chance ends in failure but as the story comes to it’s climax an opportunity arises for him to finally have freedom and he doesn’t take it even though by now he’s been a prisoner in the shack for several months. It’s like all the trappings of modern society has been stripped away from him and he’s enjoying the simple life in the shack, being confined and living on bare essentials. I found it a very hypnotic story and maybe that’s due to the fantastic cinematography on show which gives the movie at times a very dreamlike quality to it especially the scenes showing us the bleak shifting sand dunes. You’ll come to see the sand itself as a character in the movie – an unstoppable force which is alive and unpredictable. It’s also quite an erotic and sensual movie as the man develops a bond with the young widow and finally succumbs to her charms as they wash each other’s bodies of sand in a very intimate scene before having sex. I’ve read that some people have commented that you could call this movie something akin to an episode of The Twilight Zone and I guess I’d agree with them on that note. There’s an air of mystery to it all and it is quite an eerie and gripping story. The minimalistic soundtrack is so fantastic.

WomanInTheDunes screenshot

The movie relies on the superb performances of it’s two leading performers to carry the story on their shoulders. Kyoko Koshida is brilliant as the woman that’s resigned to her fate in the shack. It’s not like she’s down in the dumps about this at all as she comes across as a very calm person. It makes you think why doesn’t she want to escape especially since the sand has consumed her husband and daughter and by shovelling it into crates every night she might very well come across their bodies in the future. She obviously doesn’t want to change her life and is content where she is. This is in complete contrast to Eiji Okada’s magnificent portrayal of the man who thinks her attitude to the situation she finds herself in rather ridiculous and his reaction to all of this is to try and escape. But as the days turns to weeks for him in the sandpit he becomes accustomed to it eventually becoming just like the woman. The chemistry between the two characters is excellent.

Woman In The Dunes is a visual feast for the eyes with a story that you’ll be drawn into. It’s long running time demands viewers’ patience but stick with it. It really is well worth watching. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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